By Andrew Yarrow
February 23, 2017
John, a nearly 30-year-old man with an associate’s degree, loves his job doing after-school mentoring, tutoring, and coaching sports with elementary students in West Oakland, Calif., but with only part-time hours each week at $12.50 per hour, he struggles to pay his $1,400 rent and take care of his 1-year-old daughter.
“I like to give back to my community, but the pay is too little, there are not enough hours, and I get no benefits,” he said. While he does weekend coaching, he’s also looking for a full-time job, even in a stockroom, just for the steady paycheck.
Like 45.9 million other American men in 2015, according to the Census Bureau, he lives either below the federal poverty threshold, with incomes below $12,331 for an individual and $19,078 for a family of three, or in “near poverty” (up to twice the official poverty measure), or with incomes between $25,000 and $38,000. This is nearly one-third of the nation’s 156 million adult men. Millennials—those between about 20 and 35—fare even worse.
Wages have stagnated or fallen
Poverty is higher among women, but in an economy where male wages have stagnated or fallen during the last 30 years ago, it is important to remember that poverty and near-poverty incomes cross all racial, gender and age lines. Although more unmarried men with jobs fall into the ranks of the working poor, 22 percent of working husbands with children fall below the near-poverty threshold. Many have full-time jobs, some menial, some supposedly “white collar” working in stores and restaurants, but many more can’t find or hold on to jobs.
It’s hard to know which is worse — to work full-time and struggle to make ends meet or not be able to find steady work to pay the bills. While racism, sexism, and age discrimination have a significant effect on one’s an economic fortunes, men have several unique problems:
- Men account for 9 out of 10 ex-offenders, and 1 in 3 between 25 and 54 have criminal records, which usually leaves them at the back of the line when employers hire new workers. Most employers explicitly say that anyone with a conviction need not apply, writes Devah Pager, a Harvard sociologist and author of “Marked: Race, Crime, and Finding Work in an Era of Mass Incarceration.”
- Men have been falling ever further behind women educationally, with one-third fewer men than women getting bachelor’s degrees.
What can be done
Several things could enhance the fortunes of low-income men. The de-incarceration movement, and the related effort to help most ex-offenders get jobs, could help millions of men. While relatively well-paying factory jobs are not likely to come back in any significant number, businesses and government could do a lot more to provide training opportunities that are an alternative to college.
The U.S. spends less on worker training and re-training than most other rich countries. Strengthening the family, or at least changing child-support disincentives for noncustodial fathers to work, also would benefit many men and their children.
And, for all those who assert that “we lost the war on poverty,” if not for government assistance, poverty rates would be about two-thirds again higher. Stronger, smarter policies to reduce poverty would make a difference.
As Henry, a new father who has worked in a Los Angeles nursing home for 10 years, said: “$11 an hour is not enough to support my family and provide healthy food, a stroller, and all the other things a baby needs.”